Profile: Fernando Meirelles

“Sometimes you think you have a film, and then you change something and it becomes different. It’s a wonderful job because it surprises you.”

This week we’ve been talking movies and how they can inspire our travel fantasies and how some of our projects can make those images come alive. Today we are going to profile Fernando Meirelles, the visionary film-maker behind the City of God and City of Men films which bring to life the incredible city of Rio de Janeiro.

Meirelles was born on November, 9, 1955 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. His father was a gastroenterologist and his work took him to Asia and North America. This gave Fernando the chance to experience different cultures and places. At the age of 12 he received a movie camera from his father as a gift, unbeknownst to him that this would give birth to a lifetime obsession.

During his time in university studying archeticture he became involved in experimental filmmaking that also managed to influence his graduation piece which unlike the other students was done in the form of a film. After receiving many awards from the Brazil Film Festival for the new and untried videos he directed, Fernando along with his friends formed an independent company called Olhar Eletrônico.

Fernando spent several years in independent television and subsequently became an advertisement film director as he gravitated towards publicity and commercials.

Never staying in one place for too long, Fernando decided to open up a film production company, with Paulo Morelli and Andrea Barata Ribeiro called O2. It is in this period that City of God, originally a book which Fernando stumbled across, was made into a movie. City of God is utterly inspiring showcasing fascinating, often visceral portrayal of life in Rio. Rather than making the viewer want to travel to the golden beaches of Brazil, it coerces anyone watching it to travel to favelas and the heart of Rio.

Meirelles does not just show you the vibrant culture of Brazil’s second largest city, the film also displays the rhythm of the backstreets, and introduces you to a world of crime and chaos. More importantly he puts forward a story untold, providing viewers worldwide with a unique and realistic picture of Rio de Janeiro.  City of God has received various Oscar Award nominations including the Award for Best Director. It is definitely a must-see for all those wanting to get a peek at life in Brazil.

Meirelles has also produced and directed a number of TV series, one of which is the City of Men a continuation of the world he brought us with City of God. It details an account of two childhood friends living in the favelas. As the series develops so do the young boys, from children in school to young men attempting to find jobs and escape a path of crime. Again City of Men highlights the intricacies of life on the outside, encouraging those watching to look at the world in another point of view, something that many of our volunteers working in communities across the globe are doing right now.

The successful TV series was made into a film in 2007.  The film starts where the series ends and extends upon the themes created, including the struggle between friendship, and the desperate attempt to avoid a criminal lifestyle.

It is clear to anyone that has watched these films and tv series that Fernando Meirelles is an exceptional director; it is his ability to detail the untold story, to highlight what otherwise would be ignored, which makes him truly superb.

By Nancy Bukasa


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